Remember when Hillary Clinton won a landslide victory? The fake news media which predicted it in order to depress pro-Trump voter turnout certainly does. And so they’re out to fight “fake news.”
By fake news, they don’t mean their own raging torrent of misinformation and lies.
The media has gone to war against Facebook. While various supporters have blamed Hillary’s loss on everything from the FBI to internalized misogyny, the media has decided that Facebook is to blame.
Cable news is dying. Newspapers struggle online and offline. The mainstream media’s profitability lives and dies by social media. But the essence of social media is that it allows communities to shape what they see. That’s a terrifying idea if you’re a media conglomerate that depends on its megaphone.
But it’s also scary if you’re a leftist running for office in a country that doesn’t agree with your views.
Obama blamed “messaging” for the election results. But messaging requires being able to reach people. And that means clearing competitive voices out of the social media space by banning conservatives.
The war on conservative media is being conducted under the guise of banishing “fake news” from Facebook. But the fake news devil is in the details. Fake news can mean satire sites like the Onion or the Daily Currant. It can mean foreign clickbait sites that invent fake news. But it can also mean sites from outside the mainstream media whose stories are contested by the left for partisan reason.
The war on fake news is a smoke screen for a campaign against conservative media. And it’s easy to see that it’s conservative sites that are the real target of the Facebook book burners.
Buzzfeed, which depends heavily on Facebook traffic , has fed the “fake news” hysteria. Its list of “fake news” sites includes “hyperpartisan” sites. Its story contrasting “legitimate” mainstream media outlets, a category that somehow includes the Huffington Post, with a variety of right-leaning sites is a major piece of supporting evidence used in the fake news crusade.
Considering BuzzFeed’s history of fake news stories that fit its political narrative, it has no credibility fact checking anyone else. Examinations of BuzzFeed’s own methodology for its fake news article tore it into tiny little shreds. Its claim that fake news outperformed real news turned out to be… fake.
But what’s more important is how quickly the goal posts have been moved from fake news to conservative news, from fraudulent sites to fighting “clickbait” or “hyperpartisan” sites. And it’s clear that these are largely a euphemism for sites on the right that are outperforming the media.
USA Today and the Los Angeles Times promoted a list of “fake news” sites that included a variety of mainstream conservative sites including RedState, IJR and the Blaze. BuzzFeed targeted RightWingNews.
Fake news, like fact checking, has very obviously become a euphemism for attacking the politics that the left disagrees with by dressing up partisan agendas in fake concerns about journalism and civic virtue.
This goes far beyond namecalling. The goal is to ban conservative sites from social media. Or at least to penalize them in ways that will make it difficult for them to compete with the mainstream media.
There are obvious ideological and financial motives behind this war on “fake news”. The financial motives are grossly blatant. The loudest media voices in this war, BuzzFeed, HuffPo and Vox, depend heavily on social media traffic for their own hyperpartisan factually challenged clickbait.
If anyone is in the business of purveying fake news, it’s this bunch of hoax clickbait sites.
Vox claimed that everyone in Boulder, Colorado had 102 toilets and that there was a giant bridge connecting Gaza and the West Bank. But somehow that doesn’t qualify as fake news.
Then in a further demonstration of how the war on “fake news” was itself fake news, media outlets ran stories headlined, “Fake news threatens democracy, Obama says” from USA Today, “Obama, With Angela Merkel in Berlin, Assails Spread of Fake News “ from the New York Times and “Barack Obama: Fake News On Facebook Hurts Democracy” from the Huffington Post.
But Obama hadn’t said anything about the media’s fake news crusade. He had specifically complained about the way that the United States and Russia were being equated and objected to “misinformation” on television and Facebook that made both countries seem just as bad. The German context of his remarks strongly suggests that he was talking about the old NSA controversy. But the “fake news” crusaders briefly quoted him before recapping the same old attacks on “fake news”.
The irony was that their “fake news” war was being waged with very fake news.
This isn’t about the integrity of information. No one can look at the fake polls promising a Hillary win and believe that the media is concerned about “fake news”. Instead it’s trying to clear out competitors by bullying Facebook into banning or marginalizing news stories from the right that compete with theirs.
The outrage over Hillary’s loss is being monetized by left-wing clickbait outlets into a pressure campaign against Facebook. Google News has already partly folded by rolling in the media’s fake fact checks. Twitter went full social justice a while back. But Facebook is the biggest prize. Nearly half of Americans get their news through Facebook. Shape its feed and the narrative gets more power than ever.
Social media allows people to form their own communities and become their own gatekeepers. That’s a potent power. The crusade against fake news is about putting the media gatekeepers back in charge.
There’s no question that there is a lot of garbage circulating on social media, but just as much of it comes from Vox, Slate, the Huffington Post or even more mainstream media outlets, as from “fake news” sites. The mainstream media is hyperpartisan, its headlines are clickbait and while it’s eager to fact check political opponents, it doesn’t make much effort to fact check its own narratives.
The whole “fake news” crusade managed to show how true that was all over again.
The internet can be empowering when it liberates users to find their own answers. The media’s fake news outrage insists that it should be the only ones empowered to supply those answers. But, in the old hacker credo, information wants to be free. The media has been struggling and failing to dam the flow.
Banning conservative news from Facebook won’t create a safe space for media lies. Instead it will lead to an exodus of conservatives from Facebook. Just as conservatives left behind the media for the web.
The evolution of clickbait and hyperpartisan journalism was a media response to the collapse of its central authority. But the media is panicking because its tactics can be copied and imitated by anyone. If it’s become hard to tell fake news from real news, it’s because the media dived headfirst into the fake news business. It chooses narratives, shapes stories around them and lies constantly.
That’s not just a conservative critique. Take it from Obama’s own people.
“We created an echo chamber,” Ben Rhodes, the Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategic Communications, boasted. “They were saying things that validated what we had given them to say.”
“The average reporter we talk to is 27 years old, and their only reporting experience consists of being around political campaigns,” he said. “They literally know nothing.”
Rhodes was talking about the Iran Deal and how easy it was to convince the media to repeat back White House lies. The media lied to Americans. Its fake news outlets continue to cheerfully talk up the disaster while demanding that dissenters be purged from Facebook. That’s where fake news really comes from.
If the media really wants to fight fake news, it can start in its own studios and offices. Its crusade to clear space for its fake news by banning conservative sites cannot and will not succeed.